Saturday, August 8, 2015

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

By John Steinbeck. Adapted and directed by Iain Sinclair

A Sport For Jove Theatre Company and Seymour Theatre Co-production

The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. August 6-8 2015

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Andrew Henry as Lennie and Anthony Gooley as George
in Sport For Jove Theatre Company's production of  Of Mice and Men

Director Iain Sinclair has established a formidable reputation as a director with remarkable insight into the inner souls of humanity’s vast tapestry of human nature.  His minimalist production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, demonstrated his allegiance to the playwright’s intent, abandoning the trappings of theatricality for the truth of human nature and the population of a small American town in the Thirties, written shortly after Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Under Sinclair’ direction, Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding in the Sydney Theatre company’s Wharf Theatre pulsated with the passion, the longing and the fatalism of the Spanish characters, caught in the web of Fate.  Set in a small Soho nightclub during the shady era of gangland warfare and against the  backdrop of rock ‘n roll revolution Jez Butterworth’s Mojo,  again  in the intimate Wharf Theatre, illustrates Sinclair’s adroit and empathetic insight into the actions and motivations of the disenfranchised, the  disempowered ,the powerful and the powerless, the oppressors and the oppressed. Sinclair’s production and adaptation of Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men is a dramaturgical and directorial triumph. This co-production by Sport For Jove Theatre Company and the Seymour Centre is another jewel in Sinclair’s growing list of crowning achievements
AndrewHenry as Lennie. Andre de Vanny as Curley
Every aspect of Sport for Jove’s staging of Steinbeck’s classic tale of George Milton (Anthony Gooley ) and simple minded, gentle giant, Lennie Small (Andrew Henry ), struggling to survive during the Great Depression has been meticulous in its attention to detail, truthful recreation of period and reverent acknowledgement of Steinbeck’s superlative art as chronicler of his time and observer of his fellow men and women.  From the outset, the gentle strumming of You Are My Sunshine sets the tone of ironic fate.  Echoing the lines of Robert Burns’ poem, “The best laid plans of mice and men go awry”, Steinbeck’s novella in the accomplished hands of the Sport for Jove Theatre Company in co-production with the Seymour Centrepaints a bleak portrait of broken dreams and fractured fortune. George and Lennie dream of a place of their own, where Lennie can tend the soft and cuddly rabbits.  Candy (Laurence Coy ) also offers to contribute $350 towards the cost of the farm to escape the hardships of his physical decline. Known only as Curly’s wife, Anna Houston plays the only woman and ill-fated victim in the production. Jealously guarded by Curley (Andre de Vanny), son of The Boss (Terry Serio), the lonely and attractive wife dreams of fame and fortune in Hollywood. Others, like the alienated black worker, Crooks (Charles Allen ) are resigned to rejection, loneliness and the cruel twist of fate. The philosophical Slim (Christopher Stollery) has found his niche as arbitrator and protector, demonstrating a humanity that would in better circumstances provide a more rewarding life. Carlson (John McNeill) and Whit (Tom Stokes) accept their lot and cope as best they can with the life they have been given. Some are born to their lot; some accept their fate and some struggle to break free. Steinbeck’s saga of the underdog, bearing the yoke of misfortune, cries a protest against unjust irony within a disparate society.
Lennie (Andrew Henry) and Curley's Wife (Anna Houston)
Sport For Jove’s production offers a compelling and soul-stirring insight into Steinbeck’s world. Sinclair’s casting is immaculate and his actors search deep within themselves and their text to discover a profound truth to their characters. Each actor discovers a unique distinctiveness to their characters, which not only impresses their individual lives upon the audience, but layers performance with a startling reality and truth. The deep bond between George and Lenny, whose inadvertent strength and affection for tender creatures, leads to the ultimate tragedy reveals itself with moving power in the performances of Gooley and Henry. Candy’s love for his old sheepdog lends greater pathos to the killing of his beloved pet and is sensitively captured in Coy’s performance.  And finally, Sinclair’s cast capture superbly the tragic inevitability of lives, destined to be so cruelly cast aside upon the flotsam and jetsam of a society that condemns them to an unjust fate. The best laid plans may go awry and do so violently in Steinbeck’s partly autobiographical novel. In Of Mice and Men, and most specifically in Sport For Jove’s magnificent production, the words of Shakespeare’s Cassius does not take into account America during the Great Depression and its impact on the ordinary working man and woman, when he says “The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.”
Candy, Whit (Tom Stokes), George, Lennie and Curley's Wife
Nothing has been overlooked to render this production Of Mice and Men amongst the finest expression of Steinbeck’s gritty and disturbing world that you are likely to see.  Add to the magnificent casting and  intellectually and emotionally inspired direction the evocative and authentic setting by Michael Hankin and Sian James-Holland’s subtle and atmospheric lighting design, and audiences can expect a theatrical piece de resistance which is impossible to resist. Sport For Jove’s triumph is enough to cause an unprecedented rush on bookshops to once again thrill to Steinbeck’ writings. That is the company’s gift to their audiences.